Life is meaningless and random. Happiness is always fleeting, love an exception but never the norm. And in the eternal cosmos where planets suddenly collapse into black holes and infinite stars fade into supernovas that decimate entire galaxies, there is only one constant, one hope in our reality where life can begin anew: The simple pleasure that comes from solving a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle.
Okay that’s a bit overkill, but to fully appreciate “Puzzle,” a quaint but spirited gem of a movie from director Marc Turtletaub, that’s also based on an Argentine movie from 2010, you’ll have to be prepared for the film’s slow-paced rhythm that is near torturous at the beginning. We follow Agnes (a spritely Kelly Macdonald), counting down the menial seconds of her day-to-day homemaker life. She’s an unappreciated math whiz, with a penchant for numbers and patterns that’s sadly reduced to “cute quirk” by her blue collar beau Louie (David Denman).
But at a party, Agnes is gifted a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle. Be it some undiscovered talent or just a gift from god, Agnes is a master at the jigsaw game and even travels to nearby New York to get her hands on some more pieces. There she spots a flyer posted by Robert (Irrfan Khan), another aberrant but skilled puzzler seeking a partner for an upcoming competition. Agnes and Robert join forces, with Agnes slowly growing more independent and vocal but still having to hide her new passion from Louie.
What unravels is a earnest, complex and soulful story built on the overlapping contradictions of daily life and the anomalous respites we seek to make our existence whole. To Agnes, puzzling can be both seen as the break from the chaos of her marriage or a much needed attempt to create chaos amidst the boredom of her domestic life. Puzzling is both an excuse to ignore her attraction to Robert as well as a method of embracing it. And even when she thinks of clever solutions for her day-to-day problems, nothing ever fits as it totally should.
Macdonald makes the movie, showcasing Agnes’ growing emotional maturity through bent brows and skeptical tones of voice. Denman too is exemplary, starting off as an unsympathetic, blissfully unaware husband who manages to earn our pity later on. And we are always in awe of Robert, his house empty of furniture since he’s filled it with wisdom, never condescending to the inexperienced Agnes but managing to open her eyes and see beyond the corners of her current world.
It’s a moving story, buoyed by frequent displays of cathartic emotion and occasional splashes of good-natured humor. One of the most profound moments of the film occurs when Agnes is commenting on how her family’s vacation home stopped them from actually going anywhere. And in the movie’s final moments, the picture of Agnes’ life is still unclear. What’s certain, though, is she recognized she finally has the pieces.